I recently read an entire year’s worth of X-Men comics in a single weekend. Well, technically it was only ten months but, with Marvel double shipping some months, it was more than 25 single issues.
For starters, it was a lot of fun simply tracking down the assorted issues I had skipped. As I rushed from store to store looking for All New X-Men 1-16 and Uncanny X-Men 1-11, I recalled that the thrill of the search is one of the great joys of collecting comics.
I stopped by Comics Etc. first. They’re the largest comics store in the area and they’re a lot more customer friendly since they moved to a new location last year. They also have the best selection of recent back issues; I think they tend to over-order but it works to my benefit so I’m not complaining. Indeed, they had more than half of the issues I was missing including the debuts. I had to settle for a few second and third printings but I’m a reader, not an investor, so I was happy.
My next stop was Comics Wonderland. They’re the closest store to my house but I only drop by occasionally as they don’t offer a membership discount. However, they’re a decent fallback and I sometimes shop there for back issues. In this case, they had a scattered assortment of recent X-Men comics. Amazingly, their sparse selection matched a few of the remaining holes so I snatched them up.
I headed back downtown to my regular store, Comic Book Heaven. I hadn’t stopped there originally because I knew they wouldn’t have that many recent issues. They tend to sell-out, particularly since they picked up an influx of new customers after another local store, Empire Comics, closed down. That’s actually a sad story. Empire had been owned by two brothers- twins actually- who died a couple of months apart last year. Empire used to be part of my regular circuit and I miss it. Anyway, I was right about my regular shop. They only had a couple of issues that I still needed.
Finally, I went home and bought the last four issues online. I know that some of the older fans think that the world wide web has ruined the joy of the search but I respectfully disagree. I can still enjoy rummaging through flea markets or running from store to store if I want. But I also know that any disappointment in not finding something is only temporary. Chances are good that the comic in question is only a click away.
I suppose I should explain why all of this was necessary. I am an avid X-Men fan after all and it’s unusual for me to skip a year (okay, ten months) of any of their major titles. But I’ll admit that I was skeptical when All-New X-Men and a new Uncanny X-Men were initially announced.
For one thing, I was already collecting three other X-Men titles: Astonishing X-Men, Wolverine & the X-Men and regular ol’ X-Men. I was also planning to give the upcoming Avengers/X-Men hybrid title, Uncanny Avengers, a try. That seemed like more than enough X-Men for anyone.
Secondly, and more significantly, I hesitated to buy an X-Men comic by Brian Michael Bendis. I had grown tired of his work on Powers and had been disappointed by his work on Avengers and I didn’t want to be burned again.
Finally, I was skeptical of the proposal to bring the ‘60s X-Men forward in time to today. Comics tend to indulge in too much nostalgia as it is. Nostalgia is definitely part of their appeal. It’s one of the great joys, right up there with the search. But I don’t want my comics to wallow in it. I’d rather look forward, thank you very much. I’m also not particularly nostalgic for a line-up that disbanded several years before I was born. Plus, I was concerned that this would become a platform for baby boomers to bash everything that occurred in the last 40 years and I didn’t want to sign up for that.
However, over the past year (okay, ten months), my resistance slowly wore down. I do have a bit of a completist streak in me (they should have a recovery group for that) and it was hard to see X-Men comics sitting on the shelf month after month and pass them by. Yet I’ve resisted that urge before- and will probably have to again.
The bigger factor was the positive reviews that kept rolling in. I can ignore positive reviews too, as I know I don’t always agree with the self-appointed pundits. But I couldn’t so easily ignore the raves I was reading on my Facebook feed from fellow comic book fans like Doc Beechler. These were people whose opinions I trust-whose tastes often align with my own- and they were telling me that these were great comics.
So I started to peak at shelf copies of All-New and Uncanny. I discovered that they weren’t the generational screed I had feared. Bendis was exploring new angles, like having Jean Grey and the Beast become an item- something that never happened in the ‘60s. That scene convinced me to give Bendis’ X-Men a try. After that, it was only a matter of time before I picked up all of those issues I had skipped.
Coincidentally, the X-Men titles were about to embark on one of their notorious crossovers. It was the perfect time to catch up- and find out what the fuss was all about.
I have to say my friends were right. These are really good comics. I’d finish one and want to read the next one immediately. They were that engrossing. They have to be good if I’m going to read that many of them in a single weekend.
More than anything, I appreciated the sense of humor. Lots of comics try to be funny. Few of them succeed. Yet Bendis had me laughing out loud every few issues. I liked the situational humor, like Jean Grey-from-the-past and Rachel Grey-from-the-future intentionally avoiding each other. But I absolutely loved the witty repartee. My favorite scene was one in which Captain America and the Avengers visit the new Jean Grey School. Captain America has learned about the presence of the past X-Men and has come to confront Beast about his irresponsible action. While Captain America and Beast have their conversation just out of earshot, Kitty Pryde and Iceman perform their own version. The impression of Captain America’s “stern” voice had me roaring with laughter. When I finished the scene, I performed a rendition for my wife who found it just as funny. Congratulations, Brian Michael Bendis, for crafting one of the funniest scenes I’ve read in 25 plus years of comics.
Bendis also does a good job depicting the convoluted relationships of the X-Men family. From the flirty first steps between Kitty and Iceman to the cold demeanor of former lovers Emma and Cyclops, Bendis paints a panorama of human relationships- each as real as the next. I kind of knew that this would be Bendis’ strong suit- and had once suggested him as a good fit for the X-Men because of it- so I’m glad to see that he pulls it off.
I was particularly pleased with the unpredictability of these stories. I was worried that the presence of the old X-Men would result in a lack of progress. Yet, as previously noted, Bendis had no problem throwing out the status quo. And then doing it again. For example, the young Angel quit the team and joined old Cyclops’ band of revolutionaries. To my surprise, Bendis didn’t bring the original X-Men forward to keep them together. Instead, they’ve become a huge complicating factor in everyone’s lives and I’m never quite sure what is going to happen next. I certainly didn’t predict that the Battle of the Atom crossover would include yet another X-Men team from the future. It’s been a blast watching the shifting alliances as different X-Men squads pursue different agendas.
So, yeah, I’m fully on board. Maybe five X-Men titles aren’t too many after all. And maybe Bendis is the perfect fit for the X-Men I once thought he would be- and not the disappointment I feared.